Monday, September 24, 2007

Week in Review: Win One for the Scooter

Part I

Week 25: September 17-23, 2007

Record for the Week: 5-1, 45 RS, 27 RA
Overall: 90-65, leading the Wild Card by 2.5 games, Magic Number of 2 to make the playoffs.

The Breakdown:

9/17 -- Baltimore 5, Yankees 8
Phil Hughes gets his first--and possibly only--win at Yankee Stadium this season. Hideki Matsui breaks a power drought (to use a mixed metaphor); and hit machine Jorge Posada gets another three base knocks.

9/18 -- Baltimore 0, Yankees 12
Mike Mussina improves upon his comeback start, and this time brings some strikeouts with him, whiffing six in seven shutout innings. Dougie Spellingerror plates four runs, three on a homer, Jeter and Cano contribute three hits each.

9/19 -- Baltimore 1, Yankees 2
Veteranliness is served with Andy Pettitte getting his turn to stifle the Oriole offense. Joba Chamberlain is getting more mid-inning, runners-on appearances, in preparation for a larger role. The guy's already a golden god at the Stadium--if they can combine Joba and Rivera into the 1-2 punch the Yanks had with Rivera and Wetteland in '96...mmmm, that's tasty.

9/21 -- Toronto 5, Yankees 4
We already talked about the Roller Coaster. Next!

9/22 -- Toronto 11, Yankees 12
Yeah, this one, too. Next!

9/23 -- Toronto 5, Yankees 7
La Chiquita and I took this one in yesterday, my blushing bride (today's our second anniversary) taking the place of Brother J, who's on the disabled list with the dreaded flu-like symptoms. Sadly, we were late for the tribute to the Scooter. Unlike Saturday's sogfest, Sunday's game was played under ideal circumstances--a sunny, clear day, bright enough to send both of us home with some color, but not oppressively hot. The Moose--perhaps smelling blood in the water given Ian Kennedy's injury and Phil Hughes' inability to escape the sixth inning in his last two starts--was on, allowing a cluster of runs in the second inning, but bouncing back to pitch seven, with one walk, five strikeouts, and a hit per inning. Luis Vizcaino gave the runs back in short order, bringing down the wrath of Joba upon the Blue Jays, and setting up the rookie's first career save, in front of his dad. The offense was keyed by three hits from Jose Molina--channeling Posada for the day--and Cano also had three hits to keep his batting average over .300 for the season. Good times.

Weird moment of the game: Vizcaino surrenders a two-run shot in the eighth, to Matt Stairs, who crushes it into the black seats. A young Bleacher Creature wearing a Mariano Rivera shirt scampers out into the black seats to recover the ball, and throw it out on the field, to the delight of the crowd. Then, after the kid's gotten back to his section, the cops go across the black seats to drag the kid out of the game, which sets off a firestorm--people booing, starting chants of "let him stay!", the works. Yankee fans booing cops set off a wave of nostalgia in me--for a moment, it felt like being a Yankee fan back in 1989 again. Then the curtain of negativity lifted suddenly, when the scoreboard announced that Chamberlain was warming in the pen. Welcome back to the future, kids.

Player of the Week: It's got to be Mike Mussina. The Moose allowed 3 runs in 14 innings for the week, striking out 11 batters and looking like a living, breathing pitcher again. He's dealt himself back into the rotation--for good or for ill--and has been spotting that 89 MPH fastball of his the way he did last season. Will this last? No one knows, but for the Yanks' sake, I sure hope so. Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Chien Ming Wang, and Andy Pettitte all deserve honorable mentions for their work this week.

On the hitting side, Robinson Cano (.423/.483/.538) and Jorge Posada (.389/.522/.444) were hot, and Hideki Matsui experienced a modest power surge (2 HR, 1 2B, 1 3B in a .259/.355/.593 week). I've really got to give some love to Doug Mientkiewicz (.467/.600/.733), in whose honor I composed the following short poem, texted to Brother J's sickbed during yesterday's game:
Minky. His bat is stinky;
His fifth-inning RBI was dinky,
But his glove is sweet.
I think that says it all. Seriously, good going for another guy who's really inserted himself into the roster conversation this month.

Dregs of the Week: You can get an easy definition of "bad" from a couple of members of the Yanks' relief corps, Kyle Farnsworth (5 R in 1 IP, spread out over two appearances) and Edwar Ramirez (4 R in 1 2/3 IP). Where Mienkiewicz and Matsui did well for themselves in the 1B/DH/LF merry-go-round, Jason Giambi (.100/.400/.100) and Johnny Damon (.222/.300/.278) weren't helping themselves so much. Melky Cabrera--the man whose presence in center field kind of created this crunch--was officially all over the place last week, hitting .238/.292/.238, but matching the team lead with 8 RBI. So he came up big in big spots, ditched out much of the rest of the time, ran the bases like a drunken sailor, but bailed out the pitching with his work in the field, including gunning down Greg Zaun at the plate in the fourth inning of Sunday's game. Does Melky really belong among the Dregs this week? You figure it out, it's hurting my head...

Story of the Week: As I wrote over at today, it's looking good for the Yanks to make the the postseason:
In the American League, it's all done but the dishes. Three of the four playoff spots were clinched over the weekend, and the Yankees are poised to claim the final berth. While Detroit and Seattle aren't mathematically eliminated, the odds aren't in their favor -- essentially, either team needs need to run the table and hope for a historic collapse by the Bronx Bombers, something the computer saw happening roughly 0.2 percent of the time.
So, that would make this week about three goals, in rough order of importance: 1) Maintaining the Wild Card lead--it's easy to take things for granted, so it's no time to stop dotting the i's and crossing the t's; 2) figuring out who does and does not belong on a playoff roster; and 3) avoiding distractions. The team has a slight tightrope to walk because while the odds are in their favor, there is no such thing as a done deal; so while Joe Torre has to do things like set up his playoff roster and rotation, get key players rest, and such, he can't afford a seven-game losing streak.

The biggest roster questions right now are in the pitching staff: does Phil Hughes make the playoff roster? With the expanded off-days in the playoffs this year, the Yanks shouldn't need five starters, and they've shown some concern about putting their young starters in the bullpen. Can you, in good conscience, put the ball in Kyle Farnsworth or Edwar Ramirez's hand in a short series? If the Yankees' playoff losses over the past six seasons have taught us anything, it's that you can't hide an untrustworthy pitcher on the playoff roster. You'll inevitably be forced to rely on Jeff Weaver or Javier Vazquez or Kevin Brown, and it will never turn out well. A similar question applies to keeping Ron Villone on the roster. You have seven guys that can only be kept off the pitching staff by their health at this point (Wang, Rivera, Joba, Pettitte, Clemens, Mussina, and Vizcaino), which probably leaves four spots wide open.

Finally, the distractions. I love Will Leitch, the maestro behind Deadspin, but we really didn't need this New York Magazine article about Alex Rodriguez's possible landing places--although it does offer an interesting picture (literally, a chart) of the Yanks' power structure. You'll also note I haven't spoken about catching the Red Sox. It's a nice idea, but the potential gain (home field and choice of schedule "a" or schedule "b" in the Division Series) doesn't merit getting caught up in that as a goal. Give me a choice between another division championship and a rotation set-up that maximizes Wang and Pettitte's starts in the postseason, and the answer is simple--I think the latter contributes more to winning in the playoffs. Pennants are nice but rings are better.

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